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Riceboy Sleeps - Riceboy Sleeps

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Artist: Riceboy Sleeps

Album: Riceboy Sleeps

Label: XL

Review date: Jul. 16, 2009

Riceboy Sleeps, the graphic and musical collaboration between Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós and boyfriend Alex Somers of Icelandic blear-pop combo Parachutes, will probably go down as one of the few albums in history to contain a song called “Happiness” that makes an earnest attempt at intimating happiness. That track, which was also included on this year’s indie-rock all-star game Dark Was The Night, is a lovely, shimmering piece of aural driftwood: a chilly string motif emerges from a faraway ocean, suns itself for a spell, and then is patiently, gratefully washed away again. The whole thing lasts about nine minutes—a graduate thesis remains to be written on why nine minutes is the ideal duration for shimmering drone compositions—and the album’s subsequent hour follows pretty much the same schema. Strings and pianos and burbles and coos are articulated briefly, then blended into dreamy tapestries with a studied lack of insistence. Everything happens slowly, easily, inevitably. Each song fades to white, not black.

The fascination of Riceboy Sleeps, if not necessarily the mandate, is that it is only lovely and easy. Beyond some light creaking and symbolic audio shear, ugly things are wholly absent: no darkness, no difficulty, no death. No conflict, which means no resolution. Some songs abandon the narrative dimension for the spatial one—“Daniell in the Sea” is a choir in an echo chamber, “Howl” a late night at the aquarium—but others wind up straining against their unbounded ideas of pitch or rhythm or motion. That limitless lightness is the most profound difference between Riceboy Sleeps and equally exemplary ambient offerings from, say, the Apestaartje collective. The gravity’s been omitted, and with it the record’s grounding in reality.

Reality is obviously not the point, and never really has been for Birgisson or Somers (who engineered this album “on solar-powered laptops in a raw food commune in some far corner of Hawaii”). Still, both Sigur Rós and Parachutes have done well to keep some earthen grit just below the surface, the former in their guitar-rock vestiges and the latter in their Múmmishly gnomic imagery. Riceboy Sleeps is more like a film, shot exquisitely in various breathtaking spaces, where the plot never moves forward because nothing ever goes wrong. It’s possible that Birgisson and Somers are at work right now on precisely that film—part of me hopes they are. It would shift the burden of proof somehow, back to those of us so joylessly sure that humans are flightless.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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